This is me in the middle of crossing one of the weirdest borders I've ever crossed.
It's this one.
It divides China from China.
And it took me two hours to
This border is weird not only because it separates the same
country into two, but also because it has an expiration date: July 1st 2047.
Until then China has promised to stay out, to let
Hong Kong be highly autonomous.
Hence, the border.
But the government of China
doesn't really want to wait until 2047. They're ready to start erasing this
border now, making Hong Kong a proper part of China and one of the ways
they're doing that is this huge bridge.
Yeah, I know this isn't really the best
shot so here's a solution.
The drone doesn't even have a microphone, but even
still I couldn't help but say, "take a look at this bridge" as it was flying away.
But seriously, take a look at this bridge.
China has unveiled the world's
largest sea crossing bridge.
It's 55 kilometers, that's 34 miles, it's the
longest sea crossing in the world.
The bridge connects Hong Kong with Macau and
I always call this some sort of an umbilical cord between
Hong Kong and China.
That we want something physical for you to register
in your head that Hong Kong is part of China.
So this bridge and a bunch of other recent developments in Hong Kong are
bringing up a lot of questions of what is Hong Kong?
Who does it really belong to?
And what happens when you erase a border?
it's June 4th which is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
There are hundreds of thousands of people here in Tiananmen Square.
In the history of
communist China there has never been anything like this.
On June 4th, 1989,
pro-democracy protesters were marching on Beijing's Tiananmen Square calling
for the end of a single-party rule in China.
They were then brutally massacred,
hundreds were killed.
"The troops have been firing indiscriminately."
Marking the end of any sort of widespread democracy
movement in China.
They've just turned off all the lights in this park.
Every year the residents of Hong Kong hold a vigil to commemorate the people killed
in that massacre.
This is something that's not allowed to mainland China, but
in recent years this vigil has become more personal to these people and that's
because they are feeling a new level of influence from China.
But wait. Isn't hong Kong
already a part of China?
Technically yes, Hong Kong belongs to China but you
sure wouldn't think so by looking at this border that I'm at right now.
Okay, I made it into China.
I mean technically I was already in China, but
now I'm like, really, in China.
So how did it get like this?
Britain and China fought a couple of wars over trade
in the 1800s and Britain eventually took over Hong Kong as a colony.
At the time
this was a mainly empty rocky, group of islands in southern China. Under British rule,
Hong Kong's population and economy exploded and even though Hong Kong's
population was mainly made up of immigrants from China, it became a very
different society than mainland China which was undergoing a communist
One of the treaties that China and Britain signed said that Hong Kong
would be a British colony for 99 years, which meant that the agreement
would officially expire in 1997.
As that expiration date drew nearer, China and
Great Britain started to talk about what this is gonna look like.
Britain acknowledges that when the lease runs out in 1997 on most of the territory, the
whole of Hong Kong will revert to China.
Let's finish talking about this stuff up there.
If you go up to the 69th floor in this building in the Chinese border city
of Shenzhen, you'll find a life-size wax sculpture of this moment in the mid '80s
when the leaders from China and Great Britain sat around and negotiated the
terms of handing over Hong Kong to China.
And they came to this agreement that
Britain would give over Hong Kong peacefully to China, under the condition
that Hong Kong would be able to retain its way of life, legal system, their
economic system, freedom of speech freedom of press, freedom of association,
these are fundamental freedoms.
Freedom of religious worship, these are fundamental freedoms.
And they must continue.
They said they would let them be
independent and govern themselves for 50 years while they kind of adjusted to
50 years beyond 1997. And so this was the agreement that they came to.
It was called the "One country, two systems" model and it was kind of unprecedented.
Okay, let's head back to Hong Kong see ya Margaret, see ya Deng.
So even after Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, this border that I'm now biking to
It remained exactly how it was and this border became highly
symbolic of the fact that
yes, this is China, but it was kind of its own country
at the same time.
Governed with its own values and its own system that is
different than China, that is in opposition to China in some ways.
Perhaps the most overt symbol of Chinese sovereignty is this army barracks behind
me. It's the Chinese army.
And so even though these soldiers can't leave the
barracks or do any sort of enforcement activities within Hong Kong, they're
still here in the central area of the city and they serve as a very powerful
symbol of the fact that this is Chinese territory, this is Chinese sovereignty.
But these soldiers won't be confined for much longer.
The borders around their barracks, as well as this border of north, are quickly
China has committed to respect Hong Kong's autonomy until 2047
and for the first decade after the handover, they respected that promise.
What you have to understand is that Hong Kong was easily China's most
economically productive city.
In the early
'90s right before the handover, this
one city's economy was more than a quarter of the size of China's entire
economy and so it makes sense why China would agree to these terms, to keep Hong
Kong happy and economically free.
But then things changed.
Look at the
explosive development of these Chinese cities in recent years.
These are China's
These cities eventually eclipsed Hong Kong as the economic
powerhouse of China.
Shenzhen, this town that shares the border with Hong Kong, is
a perfect example of this.
The place went from a small fishing village of around
30,000 people to a super productive economic powerhouse of over 10 million
people in just a few decades.
Hong Kong went from making up 27% of Chinese GDP in the early '90s down to
just 3% today.
And suddenly Hong Kong, once the
economic powerhouse of China and the gateway to the West, became much less
And soon the Chinese government didn't have the same
incentives to respect Hong Kong's autonomy.
So now you begin to see a flood
of Chinese influence in this city.
Let's go see if we can catch the 5 o'clock news.
In recent years the evening news broadcast has started with the national
anthem of China,
playing under a promo video that shows Hong Kongers
enthusiastically participating in traditional Chinese customs.
is very clear: that Hong Kong is a part of China whether they like it or not.
On top of that, the language of the evening news is Mandarin, the official language
But in Hong Kong they don't speak Mandarin, they speak Cantonese.
Don't they say if you want to kill a city you kill its language first.
And we speak
They're actually some professors in Hong Kong and China
telling us that "Oh, Cantonese is actually not our mother tongue,
not Hong Kong's mother tongue."
Cantonese is actually just a dialect of Chinese.
The Chinese government tried to get teachers to use this text
book to teach Hong Kong children the basics about China, but looking into the
book you see that it's more of an advertisement for China's style of
government, than an introduction to it.
The Chinese system is the ideal type.
So multi-party rivalry will makes the people suffer, because about... all these
four points are about how bad the United States is.
Multi-party systems create
government shutdowns. They're basically pointing to that as the reason why a
multi-party system like that of the United States is deeply flawed and
really bad for the people.
In 2014 China took it one step too far.
The Chinese government was trying to control who could run for Hong Kong's election,
in an effort to secure a pro-China candidate.
This really touched a nerve
for the locals because this was their democratic process, something that China
promised they would stay out of.
So people immediately took to the streets
in protest starting here in this park.
I took the taxi from my home to here on the night.
What was it like down here that night?
We were in a standoffish situation.
And suddenly they used tear gas.
The first drop of tear gas just dropped
right in front of my eyes.
We were holding umbrellas,
trying to prevent
I remember that, like, itchy painful feeling.
Oh my gosh. Yeah.
I saw Hong Kong people joining, uniting together against
the central governments and fighting for their rights.
This protest and the
subsequent movement that came up around it is known as the "Umbrella Movement."
You would say, "Oh, what's the point of fighting when you're bound to lose? They're
so big, you're so small."
For the record, we need to fight.
We're not taking things
The protest didn't change the Chinese government's mind and it didn't
immediately change anything in Hong Kong,
but this spectacle of young people
rising up to defend their rights from the central government of China did
spark a political awakening among the many in the city who had never before
I think post-Umbrella Movement was the first time that the middle class came out and voted in droves.
And voted for the opposition force.
But for the first time like, you know, people sort of like us all started caring.
Look at this graph that shows how Hong Kongers
identify themselves, either as Chinese or Hong Konger.
In the early days after the
hand-off, as China respected the One party two systems arrangement, you can
see how Hong Kongers slowly became more and more comfortable identifying
themselves as Chinese.
But since then, with the growing influence from the
Chinese government, you can see this line reverse course.
Residents of Hong Kong
who identify themselves as Chinese has almost hit a new all-time low.
The Umbrella Movement is a manifestation of this growing Hong Kong
identity and the resistance to Chinese government influence.
China responded to the Umbrella Movement with a new wave of efforts to exert influence
in this city.
I'm standing outside the bookstore where in 2015
five staff members disappeared throughout the year. This bookstore was
selling books that were banned in China, that basically cover the sex lives and
the corruption scandals of high-ranking Chinese officials and so one by one
throughout 2015, people who worked in this bookstore disappeared.
No one really knows where they went. One of them showed up a bit later on Chinese
television apologizing for what he did.
And confessing to his crimes.
The book store has since closed down.
Back here in Victoria Park these candleholders stand as a symbol of the
fight for democracy against China's single party rule.
That was once a fight
that happened far away in Beijing, but as this border has slowly been erased these
people now find themselves engaged in that same fight.
Resisting a much more
powerful China in the struggle for their own democracy and identity.